Packers Deep Dive - Sixth Round Draft Pick Isaiah McDuffie

Green Bay lands an exciting physical linebacker prospect late on Day 3 of the Draft that provides immediate help on special teams.

Inside linebacker was a top need for the Green Bay Packers going into the 2021 NFL Draft. However, as Packers fans, we know off-ball linebacker isn't a position Green Bay prioritizes on their draft board.

It comes to no surprise Brian Gutekunst and company waited until the sixth round to finally select a linebacker.

While early-round prospects would offer immediate starting potential at the position, Isaiah McDuffie brings depth and upside to an inside linebacker group full of young, but raw talent.

From blue-collar town, Buffalo, NY, McDuffie grew up with his dad coaching high school football. McDuffie certainly isn't a stranger to discipline and hard work ethic. McDuffie's production at Boston College reflects this. As a redshirt junior, McDuffie led the Eagles in tackles with 107 stops, to go along with 6.5 tackles for loss and one interception. He also finished second on the team in tackles with 85 in 2018 as a first-year starter.

Even in 2019, where McDuffie missed the first nine games because of a back injury, the 20-year-old linebacker was able to record 30 tackles in the final four games, helping his team beat ACC rival Pittsburgh to end the regular season.

What also stands out about McDuffie's production in college is that he made plays against top talent. He recorded 16 tackles against Notre Dame, 12 tackles against North Carolina, and 10 tackles against Clemson. In all three contests Boston College lost, but their star inside linebacker showed up and didn't let up for all four quarters. That says a lot about his motor and leadership.

The 6-1, 227-pound linebacker quickly emerged as a leader and playmaker on the Eagles defense, but to go along with his high character and active motor, McDuffie is also a very good athlete.

At his pro day, he recorded a 4.61 forty-yard dash, which put him in the 76 precentile among linebackers. He also finished with a 121" broad jump (72%) and 25 reps on the bench (72%), placing him among the elite linebackers of the 2021 class in these two categories. While his agilities were less than stellar--4.39 shuttle and 7.26 three cone--his film does show better change of direction and lateral movement than these testing numbers would suggest.

In fact, McDuffie's film is full of plenty of exciting plays, where he flashes excellent traits as a rangy off-ball linebacker; however, the redshirt junior is still raw, which is evident on tape as well. This can be excpected for a prospect taken on the last day of the draft.

 

Key Observations from Film:

1) Aggressive Downhill Defender

The first thing that stands out about McDuffie's game is how aggressive he is as a run defender. He does a great job at the snap working downhill and flowing to the ball. Watch in this first clip how naturally he reads the run, finds the open gap, and gets downhill to fill the running lane and stop the running back for no gain.

McDuffie shows good technique here to close quickly and stay square as he wraps up the ball carrier. These kind of plays are seen over and over again in McDuffie's film, which is exciting to think about because the Packers could certainly use more of this type of play from their inside linebackers.

In this next clip from the Notre Dame game, McDuffie does a great job using his quick first step to beat the blocker to his spot, shoot the gap, and stop the halfback behind the line of scrimmage.

When McDuffie is kept clean, he can play fast and flow to the ball. It is a real strength of his game as he uses his quickness and athleticism to put himself in position to make plays around the line of scrimmage.

Here is another play from later in the same game that really highlights McDuffie's ability as a run defender. He quickly sniffs out the direction of the run, smoothly moves laterally to fill the gap, and then he does a terrific job securing the tackle to make the stop.

Here is one more example highlighting McDuffie's ability to work downhill and fill running lanes at the line of scrimmage. However, this is from a different angle, making it easy just how smooth this part of his game really is.

McDuffie had one of his best games of his collegiate career against North Carolina, which featured the dynamic rushing duo of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. This play is one example of many solid reps from that game for McDuffie against the run. When he is at his best and processing things well, he can play fast and be disruptive between the tackles.

 

2) Needs Work Getting Off Blocks

While McDuffie can flash good run stopping ability, his impact is a bit inconsistent because he can really struggle to get off of blocks. This next clip is a prime example of what often shows up in McDuffie's play. He is eager and battles, but too frequently he is washed out of the play once a lineman or tight end get their hands on him.

The young linebacker needs to work on keeping his pad level low, establishing an anchor, and not giving ground to the blocker. If a linebacker can at least battle to a stalemate with a blocker, then it is considered a win for the defense. It helps everyone else in the front seven tremendously if a linebacker can engage with blocks and hold their ground and not be pushed out of their gap. This is obviously easier said than done, especially when linebackers often face linemen who outweigh them by a considerable amount.

This is why it is important for linebackers to play smart football, attack half a man when engaging with lineman working to the second level, and use their hands and quickness to stack and shed.

This is an issue the recurrs throughout McDuffie's film. This next example happens a few players later in the Notre Dame game. However, instead of a big lineman washing him out of the play it is a wide receiver who is cracking down and catches him off guard. While this can happen, it would be good for McDuffie to play with better vision and hold his own at the line of scrimmage against a receiver. It is a bit concerning how easily he gets washed out of the play.

Part of this is a functional strength and technique issue, and part of this is a mental processing issue, which we will cover in further detail later.

In this third clip, however, it is sort of the perfect storm for all three of these issues. McDuffie lines up off the edge, but gets caught tracking the reverse motion by the receiver. If he would just read the linemen on this play he would see they are reach blocking in his direction and he should hold his position and seal the edge.

However, as you will see, McDuffie gets over eager and tries to chase the reverse to only then try to redirect once he sees the running back with the ball. However, it is too late at this point. He struggles to regain his position and gets caught up in the trash.

As this clip shows, McDuffie is never lacking effort. He plays full speed on every play and gives it every he has. That is something to admire about his game. However, it would be good to pair this aggressive approach with sound processing and technique.

McDuffie won't see the field a whole lot on defense if he can't learn to get off blocks more consistently. It is the very reason Oren Burks hasn't taken very many reps on defense in his first three years in Green Bay, despite being a third round pick.

 

3) Rangy Defender with Good Pursuit Speed and Motor

Yes, McDuffie has plenty to clean up about his game, but regardless, it is easy to appreciate his motor and play speed. He has impressive range for a linebacker, which he puts to good use on this nex play. Here McDuffie intiially gets hung up on a block, but once he is free and shows impressive closing speed to make it to the sideline and take down the ball carrier.

It is this kind of pursuit and hustle that will also make him a great special teams player. Coaches will love his nonstop motor, and as he grows and works on the mental aspects the game, it should make him a very active defensive player who is constantly around the ball.

This next clip shows just how fluidly he moves in space. He has good lateral movement, which helps him redirect quickly and move over the top of the line to square up the ball carrier outside the tackle box.

This play really shows how McDuffie can make plays when kept clean off of blocks. If McDuffie plays behind a defensive line that can eat up blocks then McDuffie's ability to move in space and close quickly on ball carriers should really shine and allow him to be a very good run defender.

Watch on this next play from the North Carolina game how quickly he gets outside the tackle box to take down Javonte Williams, who isn't an easy back to tackle by any means.

McDuffie has very good acceleration to close ground. He is also very physical at the contact point. Again, if he has the room to roam, he is a very good run defender because his athleticism and burst really stand out.

His athleticism and fluid of change of direction in space also help him redirect off the edge, which is important playing off-ball linebacker and lining up in various formations. In this next clip, McDuffie rushes off the edge, but it is impressive how quickly he redirects once the tailback cuts upfield. While the halfback gains some yards on the play, McDuffie saves a potential big play here.

This highlights his abilty to play in space and make tackles in pursuit. He shows good bend and hip flexibility to quickly change his course and tackle running back from behind.

 

4) Needs to Play More Disciplined and Improve Processing

As alluded to earlier, McDuffie's mental processing on the field could improve going into the next level. Part of this is natural for a young linebacker still learning the game, and the other part of it is the downside of his aggressive playing style. Take this clip from the Virginia Tech game, for example. McDuffie gets outside the tackle box very quickly, but watch how he overpursues the run and gives up leverage to the right tackle, who washes him out of the play.

This simply can't happen at the next level. This kind of lack of gap discipline could keep him from seeing significant playing time on defense. McDuffie's over-eagerness can also lead to him taking bad angles to the ball carrier.

In this next clip, the young linebacker tries to shoot the gap and make the early stop instead of reading the runner's trajectory and working to gain outside leverage. It would be better as an off-ball linebacker to press outside and try to force the run back inside, where he will have help from teammates to make the stop. If McDuffie does take the risk and takes a sharp angle to the ball carrier then he has to make this tackle. Otherwise, it results in a big gain.

Like many of the plays shown here about McDuffie, it is easy to appreciate how aggressive and downhill he plays. However, going forward, it would be good for him to show a little more patience and processing before he clicks and closes.

Take this last clip, for example. McDuffie reads the pulling lineman, but instead of locating the ball carrier, he gets downhill fast and gets sucked into the blocker, showing very little awareness where the ball carrier was heading. This mistake takes McDuffie out the play and results in the tailback getting a nice gain right in the spot where McDuffie vacated.

It is these inconsistiences in McDuffie's run defense that may prevent him from seeing the field immediately in the NFL. However, the good news is they are all correctible with proper coaching.

 

5) Inconsistent in Coverage

McDuffie's athleticism and speed certainly help him play in space and make plays on the ball in coverage. However, he can also be ver inconsistent in coverage, which may limit his role in the NFL. The Packers may think twice about leaving him on the field on third downs.

Watch in this clip against Notre Dame, how McDuffie drops in zone coverage in the middle of the field. However, he lets the receiver get behind him and then is a step slow to stick with the post route as it breaks toward the sideline.

McDuffie's effort to still make the stop here is commendable, even though he was beat in coverage. However, it is still concerning when a receiver gets a reception over the middle of the field this easily.

In this next clip, McDuffie gest upfield because of play action, but then when he reads it's a pass he tries to recover and drop in coverage. Linebackers are often taught to play the run first, so it is understandable he reacts to the play action. However, once he sees that it is pass he needs to get more depth in his pass drop. Because he fails to do this, the quarterback is able to complete the pass over the top of him.

McDuffie can be a step slow at times reacting in coverage. However, at the next level that is just enough to give up big plays.

In this next example, McDuffie drops in coverage. It appears he is in a zone because he splits the difference between the back in the flat and the tight end on a curl route to his right. However, once he sees the quarterback look and point his shoulders to the tailback, McDuffie is a bit slow to react, which keeps him out of position to make the stop. Going against a player with Etienne's speed in coverage, defenders need to be very disciplined and can't afford to react slowly.

Again, these are fixable mistakes in McDuffie's game. A lot of it comes down to cleaning up simple technique or processing issues. If McDuffie reads and processes just a second faster on this last play then maybe he is in position to make the stop and save the touchdown.

 

6) Effective Blitzer and Brings Speed Off the Edge

Finally, one very underrated aspect of McDuffie's game is his abilty as a blitzer. He has great burst and speed coming off the edge, but his motor also helps him be relentless in getting after the quarterback. Watch in this next clip how McDuffie doesn't get home on his first attempt at the quarterback, but he quickly gets back to his feet and forces an incomplete as he hits the quarterback.

This is excellent second effort, and it is a great example of what McDuffie brings to the table as a pure football player. He truly plays to the whistle on every down.

McDuffie also has good burst off the edge, and he uses his hands will to disengage with tackles. This play against North Carolina is a prime example of this.

McDuffie does a nice job here shedding this block and closing in on the quarterback for the sack. McDuffie's athelticism and closing speed bring some versatility to the field as a pass rusher.

In this next play from the Florida State game, McDuffie does an excellent job on this twist to turn the corner and use his speed to close ground.

If McDuffie can bring this type of pass rush ability to the Packers defense then that will give them an inside linebacker to experiment with on third downs. And while he may struggle at times in coverage, his ability to blitz certainly helps his cause to stay on the field in passing situations.

His athtleticism also makes him a pretty effective quarterback spy, which will be helpful when facing the Russel Wilsons and Lamar Jacksons of the world.

Watch how in this clip against Notre Dame how McDuffie does a great job shadowing Ian Brooks, keeping the athletic quarterback from scrambling downfield.

Brooks was one of the fastest quarterbacks from the 2021 class, but McDuffie has no problem keeping him contained. Quarterback spy could be a nice role for McDuffie on third downs in his first year, while he is still learning to shore up the other parts of his game.

 

Role with the Packers:

McDuffie posseses plenty of exciting attributes, but it is important to garner our expecations when it comes to the 21-year-old sixth round pick. His game is raw, and he will need time to develop. In fact, it might be a bit much to expect any kind of immediate contributions on the defense from the young linebacker.

Historically, the Packers haven't seen many immediate returns on late-round linebackers selected in the draft. The jury is still out on Kamal Martin and Ty Summers, who were fifth and seventh round selections respectively. Nate Palmer and Sam Barrington were taken in the sixth and seventh rounds of the 2013 draft and hardly saw the field in their short careers, outside of special teams work. 2012 fifth-round linebacker Terrell Manning and 2011 sixth-rounder D.J. Smith offer similar stories.

In fact, we would have to look back to 2009 with Brad Jones, who was taken in the seventh round, and 2007, where Green Bay landed Desmond Bishop in the sixth, before we can find late-round linebackers who stuck around and made any sort of career in a Packers uniform.

Saying all of this isn't to trying to downplay McDuffie's potential in any way; however, it is a good reminder to be realistic about what is expected from the former Boston College standout in his rookie season.

Realistically, in the best case scenario he is a stellar special teams contributor who rotates on the field at inside linebacker with Kamal Martin and Krys Barnes. And I believe from everything I've seen from his film, he can definitely step in to that type of role for the Packers in 2021.

 

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7 points

Comments (10)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
stockholder's picture

May 11, 2021 at 07:22 pm

Barry Pick. Already had him replacing Burks.

4 points
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nostradanus's picture

May 11, 2021 at 07:54 pm

If they get any defensive snaps out of him and he plays well on special teams, it’s a quality 6th pick for sure. He will be popular in GB with his all out, play to the whistle, blue collar Attitude.
Rooting for the kid

8 points
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splitpea1's picture

May 11, 2021 at 08:18 pm

Very comprehensive article, with good points made about McDuffie being a potential QB spy in certain situations. Plenty of new bodies on ST for Drayton to work with, so maybe he will finally be the guy to get this unit up to par.

6 points
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NoNonsense's picture

May 12, 2021 at 05:16 am

Watching McDuffie blitz or rush on the edge reminds me of a guy GB kept around last year on the PS, Tipa Galeiai. Mike Pettine cleary preferred large strong guys on the edge but Joe Barry might be more inclined to use some lighter speed guys on the edge in passing situations.

Galeai might remind Barry of Leonard Floyd from the Rams. If Tipa added any weight or muscle mass to that 6'5" 235 lb. frame this offseason hes gonna be a guy to watch in TC and the preseason.

4 points
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PackEyedOptimist's picture

May 12, 2021 at 08:18 am

I'm finally back online after not being available for the draft or until now, thirteen days later. :(   Anyway, I don't know if anyone will see this, but here is my own real-time draft (no trade up because I HATE trades up): 

PEO’s 2021 draft:  29. Trevon Moehrig S  62. Creed Humphrey C  92. Ifeatu Melifonwu CB  135.  Daviyon Nixon DL  142. Kenneth Gainwell RB  173. Jonathan Marshall DL  178. Simi Fehoko WR  214. Alaric Jackson OT  220. Dylan Moses ILB   256. Josh Imatorbhebhe WR

Moehrig and Melifonwu at DB; Nixon, Tonga, and Marshall at DL, and Moses at ILB really helps the defense.
Humphrey and Jackson prop up the OL. Gainwell is the RB3 and gadget. Fehoko and Imatorbhebhe the future WRs.
.
I was very pleasantly surprised to get all of my first five picks.​

0 points
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PeteK's picture

May 12, 2021 at 10:29 am

You were 0-10 like I was. LOL

2 points
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PewAuKeeFan's picture

May 12, 2021 at 11:15 am

0 - 10 for your picks!

As for me, I did not get a single pick wrong. :)

2 points
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PewAuKeeFan's picture

May 12, 2021 at 11:16 am

(I didn't get a single pick right either)

2 points
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PatrickGB's picture

May 12, 2021 at 10:14 am

Fantastic work. Thanks. Reminds me of the time I put a powerful motor in a smaller car. I was fast off the line but I rolled it when I tried to make a sharp turn.

4 points
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flackcatcher's picture

May 12, 2021 at 11:11 am

HA! In my line of work we call them FAV. (first time me too... :-0)

1 points
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